Panama in, Mexico out: Canaleros move into Gold Cup final

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For a moment in the first half, right after Panama made it clear a second Gold Cup win over Mexico was as much a probability as a possibility, El Tri seemed to wake up. They played with some of the skill and passion many expected a team with of their quality to carry throughout the tournament, even if most of their Gold Cup has been as meek as their World Cup Qualifying campaign. Yet by the time halftime rolled around, Panama again looked more likely to join the United States in Sunday’s final, an appearance the bore out over the match’s final 45 minutes.

With goals from Blas Pérez and Roman Torres on each side of half time, Panama secured their second ever competitive win over Mexico, replicating their group stage triumph to clinch a place in Sunday’s Gold Cup final. The Canaleros‘ second finals appearance comes eight years after their first, with the team set to meet a United States side that defeated them on penalty kicks eight years ago.

Pérez opened the scoring early. Teammate Alberto Quintero took the ball from Mexico midfielder Alejandro Castro at the edge of El Tri’s defensive third, exchanged passes with Pérez, then played the FC Dallas striker in to the right of goal. Pérez’s high, near post finish past Jonathan Orozco gave the Panamanians a 13th minute lead.

The advantage proved short-lived, as Mexico took the possession advantage they’d held through the opening whistle and started converting it into pressure. Eventually Marco Fabián, one of El Tri’s few bright spots this tournament, created a change for Luis Montes, chippping from the left of the area to set up Montes’s equalizing header in the 26th minute.

That score held for the next 35 minutes until Panama won a corner along their left just past hour mark. Restarting play, Gabriel Torres swung a ball in to the edge of the six-yard box, in the middle of goal, where Roman Torres had beat Joel Huiqui. Running onto an easy finish, the Panamanian defender put his team into their second Gold Cup final.

As with every Mexico disappointment, the loss is sure to increase pressure on head coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre, even though Mexico brought a diminished squad into the tournament. El Tri’s first two losses to Panama are unlikely to be taken in stride, though. At a minimum, the heat gets turned up yet another notch on the embattled coach.

As for Panama, Julio Dely Valdés’s team has a chance to make history. Only Mexico, the U.S. and Canada have ever claimed a Gold Cup, and while they’re sure to be seen as underdogs ahead of Sunday’s game in Chicago, Panama’s undefeated in the competition, scoring 11 times while conceding only three goals.

If they beat the U.S. it will be an upset, but from a team whose play transcends their renown, a victory for Panama would hardly be a shock.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Watford

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  • Chelsea are without N'Golo Kante, Victor Moses (both hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) is still absent.
  • Watford remain without Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl (both thigh), plus long-term absentees Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success (all knee).
  • Watford have not won against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since 1986, but the Hornets have won 10 points of a possible 12 on the road. 
  • Chelsea have lost three of their first eight matches this season. No team has ever lost this many of their opening eight matches and still won the Premier League title.

Watford heads south for another London derby with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

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The Hornets have had an amazing start to the season and currently occupy fourth place on 15 points, two points ahead of fifth-place Chelsea, which has lost two-straight Premier League games. The Blues have struggled without N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata and there have been reports of grumbles from the squad about dissatisfaction with Antonio Conte‘s training methods, but the Chelsea coach has brushed those rumors off.

Meanwhile Watford is coming off a confidence-boosting win last weekend against fellow Londoners Arsenal, and the club is looking to take down another big club for a second-straight week.

What they’re saying

Watford manager Marco Silva on his team’s start“I want everybody to be really calm. We did really in the first eight matches but it’s too early. We want to continue to work hard every day. Everything changes fast and you need to keep going and treat the next game as the most important. But of course I feel proud.”

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte on being under pressure: “‘Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

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Prediction

Chelsea has its back against the wall but the team’s overall quality should be enough to see them through with all three points against Watford. The Hornets luck runs out in Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hold on for a late win. Chelsea 2-1 Watford

Leicester City record massive earnings from UEFA Champions League

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Leicester City’s UEFA Champions League campaign may have ended without a trophy, but the Premier League side pipped the European champions in the bank account.

UEFA announced on Friday that Leicester City earned $96,167,125 during the Champions League run that ended in the quarterfinals, the farthest of any Premier League club. Real Madrid, the back-to-back champions, earned a slightly less $95,385,679. Much of the difference comes from TV rights deals in England, which pays out more to teams compared to the TV rights deal in Spain.

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Juventus, the Italian giant, earned the most of any club in last year’s Champions League, making a whopping $129,965,357, mostly thanks to the TV rights again.

Mourinho: Ibrahimovic could return in December

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Dare to Zlatan? It could be only a couple of months away.

That’s according to Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who said the veteran striker could return from his torn ACL before the end of the calendar year.

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“Zlatan is here, he’s working here and under our control,” Mourinho told reporters. “He’s working as you would expect so, so, so hard. But he’s not to be back in the next week or next couple of weeks. Do I believe he’ll be back in 2017? Yes, I do. But it’s just a feeling.”

The big Swede scored 28 goals for Man United last year in all competitions, proving that he’s still got it at the age of 36, but it’s going to be tough for him to find his old form coming off an ACL injury at such an old age. After suffering the injury last April, it’s been a long road to recovery for Ibrahimovic.

However, with the play of Romelu Lukaku up top, Ibrahimovic would only play from time to time, which could help in his recovery both from the knee injury and just the general recovery between games.

Manchester City quartet called up by Brazil for friendlies

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Brazilian National Team coach Tite has decided on calling up a full-strength squad for November’s upcoming friendly matches in Europe, including four Manchester City players in his 25-man squad.

Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Danilo and Ederson all made the squad as Tite looks to develop more chemistry among his side ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which Brazil breezed into after Tite took over in 2016.

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Luckily for Manchester City and the other European-based players in the squad, Brazil’s friendly matches will be played in Western Europe. The Selecao first faces Japan in Lille, France on November 10 before taking on England at Wembley Stadium on November 14.

The call-ups may be a tough pill for Guardiola to swallow though. As of Friday, Manchester City has 17 games remaining in the calendar year, and surely he would prefer for some of his starters to get a two-week break in November to preserve some energy instead of play in friendly matches.